Saturday Night Live has long been an institution that strives to make viewers laugh. Whether it's with cutting parodies, digital shorts, or cowbells, the show has become a landmark destination for some of the most talented comedians out there.
Sadly, though the viewers may be treated to an entertaining and uplifting display of hilarity, SNL has a long tradition of a dark side. Comedians often discuss how their job is to make people laugh through the pain, but some castmembers of the long-running sketch show endured hardships that are no laughing matter. Here are some of the most tragic stories to come out of SNL.
Darrell Hammond was a mainstay on SNL's more recent seasons, becoming the longest-running castmember ever. You probably remember him as the hilariously vulgar Sean Connery on various Jeopardy! segments. When he published his memoir God If You're Not Up There, I'm F--ked in 2011, Hammond revealed that much of his 14 seasons was spent battling an addiction to alcohol and cocaine:
I’d started adding an obscene amount of cocaine to my binges ... I had to be creative about how I did it without other people catching on or letting it interfere with the work. At least too much.
At one point it got so bad that he was escorted away from NBC in a straitjacket. Out of all the tragic stories on this list, however, Hammond is one of the lucky ones because he ultimately beat his addiction, and he's living a life of sobriety now.
Chris Rocket was heralded as the perfect mix of Chevy Chase and Bill Murray when he came on the show in the widely criticized 1980-81 season. After dropping an F-bomb during one episode, Rocket was swiftly fired and never really secured his place as an SNL star.
Following his departure from late night, Rocket had a relatively steady career and appeared in memorable roles like Nicholas Andre in Dumb & Dumber. Into the early 2000s, Rocket was mostly doing voice work for video games until one fateful that remains heartwrenching. In October 2005, Rocket's body was found in a field next to his house, and his throat had been gruesomely slit. The medical examiner determined his death to be a suicide, but no motive has ever reached the public.
I will always have a soft spot for Laraine Newman after starring as LaWanda Dumore in my guilty pleasure Problem Child 2. Newman was one of the original castmembers of SNL, but she was frequently overshadowed by fellow female performers Gilda Radner and Jane Curtin despite her immense talent.
Even though she didn't get all the choice gags, she still partook in the raucous drug culture that occurred backstage. At this time, cocaine was ubiquitous behind the scenes that Lorne Michaels left a security guard at the door to alert the cast if a cop ever showed up. For Newman, this accessibility led to a cocaine addiction as well as an eating disorder. According to Saturday Night: A Backstage History of Saturday Night Live, Newman spent so much time in her dressing room playing Solitaire that Gilda Radner gave her a deck of personalized playing cards for Christmas. It seems that those days are behind Newman now (if anything, it feels like she got up in a very specific time), and she is still doing a lot of voice work.
The incomparable John Belushi is still remembered as a pioneering comedic actor that gave us Animal House and The Blues Brothers, but his story is also a cautionary tale. He was known for living life in the fast lane, and, on the day he died, he had ingested or shot up vast amounts of alcohol, cocaine, and heroin. One news report from the week he died said that the autopsy report made it look like Belushi was "machine gunning drugs" because he was so full of holes.
The scariest part of his untimely death is how public his vices were. They were such a big part of his identity, SNL directly referenced them in one episode with an older John walking among the gravestones of fellow castmates:
They all thought I'd be the first to go. I was one of those live-fast, die-young, leave-a-good-looking-corpse types, you know. But I guess they were wrong.
As it turns out, they sadly weren't.
Phil Hartman was a beloved SNL castmember known as "The Glue" for his ability to keep the rest of his co-stars together and help guide new ones into the late night fray. On a show known for destructive personalities and excessive behaviors, Hartman was the genuinely nice guy who was extremely low-maintenance and level-headed.
This reputation made it all the more shocking when Hartman ended up in scandalous headlines in 1998. He had gotten into a fight with his wife Brynn Hartman, declaring that he would leave her if she started using drugs again. After he went to bed, Brynn got heavily intoxicated, took cocaine, and took a .38 caliber handgun to Hartman's bedroom. She shot him twice in the head and once in the side before turning the gun on herself. Hollywood turned out to mourn Hartman's tragic and unexpected death, remembering him as a warm person and loyal friend.
During his heyday, Chris Farley was so enthusiastically lovable, it's still hard to believe he's not with us anymore even after 18 years. The comedy powerhouse gave us Tommy Boy and was slated to be the voice of Shrek, but his out-of-control drug addiction ultimately cut short his promising career.
In 1997, Farley had checked into his 31st visit to a rehab facility but quickly made his way to his Chicago home. His downward spiral started on December 14, when Farley went barhopping for one last self-destructvie hurrah full of drugs and alcohol. This continued for a few days until a lethal dose of cocaine and morphine proved that not even the greats are indestructible. His death rippled throughout the country, and Farley is still remembered as someone who was gone much too soon.